Latin America’s spring harvest is El Niño’s latest victim, putting millions at risk of malnutrition

May 6, 2016
Background media: guatemala.jpg

Families across Latin America are running out of food and options as farmers report another failed harvest due to intense and unpredictable weather patterns compounded by El Niño.

Already, El Niño has caused one of the worst droughts in the last few decades across Central America and the Caribbean in 2015. Food shortages are now at crisis levels.

Right now, at least 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador do not have enough to eat and across the Latin America and the Caribbean, at least 7 million people are affected by El Nino. Oxfam and the international community are working to support them and millions more around the globe who are facing flooding, water and food shortages and more. However without sufficient funding and attention, the response is not enough.

The recent UN pledging conference in Geneva was a chance to tackle the emergency, but donor pledges still leave over a $1.7 billion funding gap, with needs expected to increase in coming months. Before new pledges are allocated, El Salvador’s and Honduras’ appeals remain at 9% and 13% funded, respectively. While El Niño sea temperatures now return to normal, it has already done its damage to global weather systems, and its effects will continue to hit the world’s most vulnerable people for months to come.

Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Director Nahuel Arenas said, “El Niño has put millions of people across Latin America at risk of hunger due to failed harvests that have depleted their food sources and incomes. Governments and international donors must not wait. Their response to this huge slow-onset crisis must be decisive and immediate – but the funding and the urgency still aren’t there.”

Many small scale farmers and their families also rely on work on commercial farms for a large part of their income. But cash crops like coffee, peanuts, bananas and sugar cane are also suffering, so many people have lost their seasonal jobs and consumers have been hit by higher food price.

El Salvador has declared a drought emergency for the first time in history. An Oxfam study of the dry corridor of the country found that 60% of families face serious food insecurity. It found that 74% of the country’s corn crop has been lost and a 76% loss of beans across the region.

“Poor people age quickly because of worry,” Pablo Hernandez from San Pablo in El Salvador told Oxfam. “Hunger is a stress that you’re carrying all the time. You want to give everything to your children.”

Mercedes Garcia, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Officer in El Salvador, said, “After so many seasons of drought and crop failures, families across El Salvador are now having to sell livestock, eat seeds and starting to exhaust their small savings. Many are now out of options and need urgent support with basic necessities like food and clean water. They also need long term support so they can adapt to future unpredictable weather patterns and start producing again. We must invest more in these forward-looking approaches.”

Oxfam is working through local partners to reach around 50,000 people in El Salvador with food vouchers and water. The vouchers offer respite to people who have little else to turn to. Rosa Yaneth Chavez told Oxfam that her children have a 90-minute walk to school and that “before this program they had to do this without anything in their stomachs. The vouchers were a huge help”.

3.6 million people in Haiti and a million in Cuba are also in desperate straits. Flooding has hit several countries in South America. These numbers are expected to keep rising until the end of the summer, when farmers will have their next harvest and the El Niño weather patterns level off.

Scientists have also tied the spread of Zika, dengue and chikungunya to the sustained higher temperatures and standing water that households have been forced to keep during the drought.

The current El Niño is one of the strongest ever measured, destroying crops and decimating food supplies across the globe, affecting over 60 million people. Oxfam is working with partners in 22 countries and is calling for international action to meet immediate needs and build up their resistance to extreme weather patterns. This needs to be matched with medium and long-term plans to tackle climate change which makes super El Niños more likely. And, as the possibility of La Nina’s extreme, yet opposing weather conditions loom later this year, we must be prepared and able to continue our support. Without urgent action from governments and the international community, we will be facing an even more daunting challenge down the road.


For media inquiries:
Melanie Gallant


  1. Oxfam is supporting those affected by El Niño in 22 countries around the world. Within Latin America and the Caribbean, Oxfam is providing El Niño support in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Paraguay, Nicaragua, with plans to reach 480,000 people in the region before the end of 2016.Oxfam released a paper “What will become of us? Voices from around the world on drought and El Niño” which includes stories, photos and background information about El Niño’s effects around the globe.


Share this page: